“When a man is warmed by the several modes which I have described, what does he want next? Surely not more warmth of the same kind, as more and richer food, larger and more splendid houses, finer and more abundant clothing, more numerous, incessant, and hotter fires, and the like. When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced. The soil, it appears, is suited to the seed, for it has sent its radicle downward, and it may now send its shoot upward also with confidence. Why has man rooted himself thus firmly in the earth, but that he may rise in the same proportion into the heavens above?” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden
It’s always speculative to imagine what a figure from the past would say about life in the present day. We can guess that Henry would be appalled by our consumerism but pleased that (contrary to present-day popular belief) we are generally less violent and more humane than our ancestors were in his day.
I think Thoreau’s main criticism of present-day society would be that we are a culture devoted to the manufacture of material dissatisfaction. (Isn’t that the point of advertising, to make you dissatisfied with what you’ve got?) Our economy is largely built upon the tireless pursuit of what he would see as simply more of the same.
(About “A Year in Walden”)